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Lessons from London (I) 6 February 2011 Dr Paul Ferguson

My family and I spent a week in London recently. I took this providential opportunity to visit some of the historic Christian sites there. One of those places I visited was the Metropolitan Tabernacle Church, which is situated near the ‘Elephant and Castle’ underground station in south London across the river Thames. It was the largest church edifice of its day in 1861, when it was erected under the preaching of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-92). Even today this Baptist Church is a thriving Biblebelieving Church pastored by Dr. Peter Masters, who was appointed an adjunct faculty member of FEBC by the late Rev. Dr Timothy Tow, former Principal of FEBC. There are many lessons we can learn from the life of C.H. Spurgeon. The Preacher Spurgeon was the most famous preacher of his generation. He became pastor of the then famous New Park Street Church in 1854 just four years after he was converted at the age of twenty. He remained pastor of this congregation for 38 years until his untimely death in 1892. Despite having no formal theological training this man was a powerful preacher of God’s Word. He was gifted with a brilliant mind, a retentive memory, and a wonderful voice. Spurgeon also was an avid student of God’s Word possessing a personal library of thousands of books. Crowds quickly flocked to hear this young preacher and soon his congregation outgrew the building. After renovations and renting larger buildings, they eventually built the Metropolitan Tabernacle Church in 1861 with a seating capacity for 6,000. Each Sunday this building was filled to capacity with many thousands having to be turned away. Indeed, Spurgeon would often ask his members (more than 5,000) to stay away for the Sunday evening service so that visitors could gain admission. His sermons were printed in national newspapers each week and circulated around the world. Spurgeon preached all over the United Kingdom throughout the week, often up to 10 times each week at different places. It is estimated that in his lifetime, Spurgeon preached to around 10 million people. For instance, on 7 October 1857, he preached to the largest crowd ever – 23,654 people – at the Crystal Palace in London. Wherever he went crowds flocked to hear this “prince of preachers” as he was called. Even the Prime Minister and members of the Royal family came to hear him preach. Spurgeon also founded more than 200 churches in the Greater London area. We should not imagine that these people who came were attracted by rock music, drama groups or any such unbiblical form of entertainment. Spurgeon preached ‘the old fashioned gospel’ with power and clarity each week. He disdained all modern innovations to attract crowds and wrote, “The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them. Providing amusements for the people is nowhere spoken of in the Scriptures as a function of the church. The need is biblical doctrine, so understood and felt that it sets men afire.” Spurgeon was a Christ-centred preacher. He made clear at the opening of the Tabernacle in 1861 that the great theme of his preaching was and aptly expressed it thus, “I would propose that the subject of the ministry of this house, as long as this platform shall stand, and as long as this house shall be frequented by worshippers, shall be the Person of Jesus Christ. I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist, although I claim to be rather a Calvinist according to Calvin, than after the modern debased fashion. I do not hesitate to take the name Baptist but the body of divinity to which I would pin and bind myself for ever, God helping me, is Christ Jesus, Who is the sum and substance of the gospel; Who is in Himself all theology, the incarnation of every precious truth, the all-glorious embodiment of the way, the truth, and the life”. The Defender of God’s Word Spurgeon was a Calvinist and defender of the Word of God. He rejected Higher Criticism and only used the KJV, which he declared “will never be bettered, as I judge, till Christ shall come.” Concerned about the encroachments of liberal and modern theology into the evangelical churches, he

made clear his philosophy of preaching was the old paths, “I am content to live and die as the mere repeater of scriptural teaching, as a person who has thought out nothing and invented nothing, as one who never thought invention to be any part of his calling, but who concluded that he was simply to be a mouth for God to the people, mourning that anything of his own should come between”. Spurgeon was especially concerned about the falling away or downgrading of truth in his own denomination - the Baptist Union. He refused to compromise in the ‘Down Grade Controversy’ (188792) and warned, “Let those who will keep the narrow way keep it, and suffer for their choice; but to hope to follow the broad road at the same time is an absurdity. What communion hath Christ with Belial?” He separated from the Baptist Union of Britain on October 28, 1887 saying, “A new religion has been originated which is no more Christianity than chalk is cheese; and this religion, being destitute of moral honesty, palms itself off as the old faith with slight improvements, and on this plea usurps pulpits which were erected for gospel preaching. The Atonement is scouted, the inspiration of Scripture is derided, the Holy Ghost is degraded into an influence, the punishment of sin is turned into fiction, and the resurrection of Christ into a myth, and yet these enemies of our faith expect us to call them brethren and maintain a confederacy with them!” Spurgeon was ridiculed and hated by the secular and religious press for his stand for truth. Despite being called a bigot and uncharitable, he maintained, “I am quite willing to be eaten by dogs for the next fifty years but the more distant future shall vindicate me.” A sad commentary on the condition of Baptist churches in England is found in Arnold Dallimore’s biography of Spurgeon a century later, “Where there is no acceptance of the Bible as inerrant; there is no true Christianity. The preaching is powerless, and what Spurgeon declared to his generation a hundred years ago is the outcome.” Even an opponent of Spurgeon, Willis B. Glover admitted, “Spurgeon’s insight into the religious life and his own times was proved by subsequent events. He did stand on the verge of a great evangelical depression, and unquestionably the theological confusion of his day and the disturbance to religious traditions wrought by higher criticism had a great deal to do with the decline of evangelicalism”. The Baptists in the late 19th century numbered over 500,000 whereas they are about 150,000 today. This was part of the widespread departure from the faith, as the 2005 church census data showed that around 2.5% of the English population attended any kind of nominally Evangelical church on Sunday. The toleration of error has had a catastrophic impact on the Church. The Friend of the Saints Spurgeon was a separatist from apostate Christianity but he was not an isolationist. Although a convinced Baptist, he always sought the widest possible fellowship with those who are the true Body of Christ. He managed to win the hearts of not only the Baptists, but also the Presbyterians, the Anglicans, and the Independents. He truly valued the “communion of the saints” and made clear, “I believe not in the communion of Episcopalians alone; I do not believe in the communion of Baptists only, I dare not sit with them exclusively.” A typical example was Spurgeon’s tributes to the Anglican bishop, J.C. Ryle. Spurgeon said of Ryle that he was “the best man in the Church of England” and testified of his ‘Expository Thoughts on the Gospels’ with these words, “We prize these volumes. They are diffuse, but not more so than family reading requires. Mr. Ryle has evidently studied all previous writers on the gospels, and has given forth an individual utterance of considerable value.” Ryle himself urged all Evangelical believers to “keep the walls of separation as low as possible and shake hands over them as often as you can.” Spurgeon had also warm relations with the Presbyterian Princeton theologians and said of Charles Hodge, “With no writer do we more fully agree.” The famous Plymouth Brethren writer, B. W. Newton and the leader of the Bristol orphanages, George Muller were also friends of Spurgeon and stayed with him in Mentone in France on several occasions. Spurgeon once said that “Mr. Muller gives us more the idea of Enoch than any man we

have ever met: he habitually walks with God.” Spurgeon also befriended those who were not Calvinists such as D.L. Moody, the great American evangelist and Hudson Taylor, who founded the inter-denominational China Inland Mission (CIM), which later came to be known as the Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF). Often times he had these men preach in his pulpit.
Although tens of thousands of pounds passed through his hands because of the success of his published sermons and books Spurgeon gave nearly all of it away. In addition to his regular pastoral duties, he founded and personally funded missionaries, churches, an orphanage, and his own Bible College. He was a man who believed and lived out what Christ taught, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Lessons for Us There is always a temptation for us in Singapore in 2011 to imitate the supposed numerical success of the ‘seeker-sensitive mega churches’ and seek to reach the unsaved by the carnal method of entertainment. Spurgeon has proven beyond a shadow of doubt that there is still power in the message of the Gospel and through it thousands have been reached for the Lord Jesus Christ. Another lesson we can learn from Spurgeon is the danger of permitting the ‘leaven of higher or textual criticism’ to exist in our lives or in our churches. He refused to compromise or modify the fundamental doctrines of God’s Word and time has proven him right. The ‘poison of liberalism’ spread like ivy in the Baptist Union; the growth stages of which have been described as sleeping, creeping, and leaping. A final lesson we can learn from C.H. Spurgeon is the need to be separatists but not isolationists. We may not agree with every true believer on every aspect of doctrine such as mode of baptism, but as long as they practise biblical separation from liberalism and false religion, live holy lives, and are standing on the old book and the old faith we should seek the warmest fellowship possible.